The Impact of Negative Space

By Kate Riley February 22, 2016

I was looking through some favorite images on Pinterest and realized that one of the reasons I found them so captivating was the designer’s attention to negative space. When we decorate we’re so tempted to fill the emptiness with furniture, art, and accents, yet often less is so much more.

Negative space is used in art and graphic design in a calculated way, the point being to use blank space to place emphasis on the highlighted subject. In interior design, the idea is very much the same; it translates to calculated restraint. Rather than filling up all the walls or corners with objects, spaces, or areas are left purposefully blank.

One effect that stems from such calculated restraint is it allows specific decor to shine. In this classic entry, using more art or furnishings or color would take away from the isolated beauty of the landscape print, the pedestal table, and the leafy branches.

 classic entry wall wainscot

cronk duch architects

Another direct result from the purposeful use of negative space is that your home will simply feel less cluttered. Walls or shelves that are too crowded can leave one feeling claustrophobic. An open bookshelf is the perfect example, certainly it can be used for its practical purpose and filled to the brim with books and accessories.

However our desire to collect, store, and display all of our things is in competition with the concept of minimalism and the serenity that stems from an uncluttered nook. See how the white space that surrounds the decor on these shelves creates a calming effect because instead of filling them completely, the designers chose negative space to surround the objects instead of more things.

white styled bookcase

house of jade

Negative space is also a great styling tool. The use of negative space in photography purposefully allows for a place of emptiness. The result? It puts the focus on the objects that are the subject of the photo shoot. Magazines love this technique because this is where they can add copy (words) in the publication to explain what’s seen in the image. Note the blank spaces in the upper right corners of both of these images.

mixed ceramics

studio moore

pearl paint colors

better homes and gardens

Using negative space in decorating gives the eye a place to rest. Instead of things everywhere, the edited decor is a breath of fresh air. It’s like that feeling we get in January from taking down all of our Christmas decorations and the subsequent sigh of relief that occurs from a space cleansed of extraneous stuff.

The impact of negative space is just something to note when decorating a room or styling a vignette. Purposeful blankness goes hand in hand with minimalism, less really can be so much more.



  1. I totally agree. For the longest time I was looking for a piece of artwork to hang in my little library/den. 3 of the walls already have pictures, books and a mirror. I finally realized that I don’t need to fill up the 4th wall with more visual clutter. It will make the tiny room feel even smaller and more overwhelmed with things. Its a bad habit of mine to want to fill every space!

  2. Beautiful images and great post. I’m most surprised by how much I love the last one…it would never occur to me to leave the space above a mantel blank, but it’s just lovely! Hope you have a great week!

  3. Never knew that was what it is called but man do I love it. It allows the eye to rest, I find it welcoming and comforting as well.

  4. Great article! So many spaces are over decorated. It makes me feel stressed for some reason.

  5. Beautiful images and great post, Kate! I too have been attracted lately to the ¨less is more¨ approach when decorating our home and they say it’s great Feng Shui as well :)

  6. I am certainly trying to get the “less is more” mindset. It makes me feel better and less unorganized! I love having the free space in my home as well!

  7. Happy to see a post about negative space! I find it especially attractive when organic pieces are used as the statement, like the plant in the first pic. It’s an artful skill I’ve frustrated myself with time and again. One of these days! Lovely post.

  8. Very timely post. The Minimalists have amassed quite a following and whether it’s feng shui or Buddhist, it’s catching on, After hearing Marie Kondo speaking at TED, seems we all have stopped stressing over how much time we want to spend getting a “gallery wall” JUST right and would rather focus on capsule wardrobe as The Next Thing. Is home your sanctuary and place of rest and rejuvenation, or is it where you go to forget about what you do the rest of the time you’re not there?

  9. I love this post! I also love the “less is more” approach to my own home decorating, as an empty-nester, and not too far away from retiring. We have been in our home for 19 years, and hope to down-size within two years. As we go from room to room, refreshing paint & some DIY projects, I have decided to leave some blank walls and spaces, and just some simple decorating done in the rooms. Our home is surrounded by natural woods and wetlands, and we have lots of large windows. Nature is my decor everyday!

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